The Anglo-Cherokee War: Two Pitched Battles Fought in Rabun County

The Anglo-Cherokee War of 1759-1761 is unique in military history, since it was fought as a war within a war…the French and Indian War from 1756 to 1763. The Anglo-Cherokee War also is unique on a purely regional level. Unlike the Civil War in which no blood was spilled in northeast Georgia, two major battles of the Anglo-Cherokee War were fought on the land that ultimately became Rabun County.

The French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years War, marked another chapter in the long imperial struggle between England and France. When France’s expansion into the Ohio River valley brought repeated conflict with the claims of the British colonies, particularly those of Virginia, a series of battles led to the British declaration of war in 1756.

Cherokee Allied Initially with the British

Native Americans took sides in the war. The Cherokee, including those in north Georgia, initially allied themselves with the British. Member tribes of the Iroquois Nation in the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes region sided with the French.

One thousand Cherokee warriors and a regiment of British troops traveled through the Rabun Gap in 1758 on their way to western Pennsylvania to attack the French at Fort Duquesne, located at present-day Pittsburgh. The attack was repulsed with heavy losses. On the return trip to Georgia, the Cherokee, having lost most of their possessions in the battle, stole horses belonging to Virginia colonists. The colonists retaliated by killing many of the Indians in a bloody massacre. In response, Cherokee warriors began raiding settlements in North and South Carolina. The Cherokee also started fighting British troops, which led to the outbreak of the Anglo-Cherokee War in 1759.

British Send Troops to Fight Cherokee

In February 1760, the Cherokee attacked Fort Dobbs near Statesville, North Carolina. Cherokee warriors also set siege to the British garrison at Fort Loudon near Knoxville, Tennessee. These attacks prompted the governor of South Carolina to call on British General Lord Jeffrey Amherst for help.

Amherst sent Colonel Archibald Montgomerie with 700 men from his regiment, known as Montgomerie’s Highlanders, and 400 men from the Royal Scots from New York to Charleston, South Carolina in April 1760. South Carolina militia joined the British force. This formidable contingent of 1,600 soldiers marched to northwest South Carolina, burning every Cherokee village along the way.

Major Battle Fought Near Dillard

By late June, the British troops and militia crossed the Chattooga River, followed an Indian trail along Warwoman Creek, turned north at present-day Clayton and headed for the Cherokee village of Eastertoy near what is now Dillard. As Montgomerie’s troops passed through the Rabun Gap, the Cherokee attacked the British column, forcing the British to retreat. After regrouping, the British resumed their attack, and after four hours of intense fighting, the Cherokee withdrew from the field. Montgomerie’s forces entered Eastertoy and burned what they could before marching back to South Carolina. The British colonel was confident the Cherokee had been pacified. He was wrong.

Two months later, the Cherokee captured Fort Loudon in Tennessee, killing 29 soldiers and taking the rest prisoner. British General Amherst ordered Lt. Colonel James Grant to lead another expedition against the Cherokee. In his orders, Amherst wrote that Grant was “not to think of coming away till you have most effectivally (sp.) punished these scoundrel Indians, as without that, it will be ever to begin again. As to treating with them, it will be time enough when they are so low that you may be sure they cannot hurt the Province again soon.”

British and Cherokee Again Fight at Dillard

Grant arrived at Charleston in the spring of 1761 with a force of more than 2,400 men, including Catawba, Chickasaw and Mohawk warriors as well as 81 African-American slaves. Four soldiers in this army would be highly decorated in the American Revolution: Andrew Pickens, Thomas Sumter, William Moultrie and Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox.”

Grant’s army followed Montgomerie’s earlier route to Rabun County, where it was attacked by the Cherokee near their village of Eastertoy. They fought for nearly five hours before the Cherokee retreated. British losses amounted to 10 killed and 53 wounded. Cherokee losses were estimated in the hundreds.

The British burned Eastertoy to the ground and continued into North Carolina as far as Murphy in the westernmost mountains. About the expedition, Francis Marion wrote: “We proceeded, by Col. Grant’s orders, to burn the Indian cabins. Some of the men seemed to enjoy this cruel work, laughing heartily at the curling flames, but to me appeared a shocking sight. But when we came, according to orders, to cut down the fields of corn, I could scarcely refrain from tears. Who, without grief, could see the staff of life sink under our swords with their precious load, to wither and rot un-tasted in their mourning fields.”

15 Cherokee Settlements Destroyed

Grant wrote that his force drove the Cherokee “into recesses in the mountains, burned their granaries, laid waste to their fields and pushed the frontier 70 miles west.” All told, 15 Cherokee settlements and 15,000 acres of crops were destroyed. The ability of the Cherokee to wage war was broken.

By July 1761, the Cherokee negotiated a peace treaty, which was signed in Charleston on September 23, 1761. According to the treaty terms, the Cherokee and British colonists agreed to exchange captives. A pro-British chief, Attakullakulla, also known as Little Carpenter, was named leader of the Cherokee. All French settlers in Cherokee territory were to be expelled. Finally, a dividing line was established that separated the Cherokee from South Carolina lands. In so doing, the Cherokee lost much of their territory. The loss of valuable hunting grounds and their most important trading commodity, deerskins, had a devastating impact on the Cherokee. James Adair, a deerskin trader, recorded in his History of the American Indians (1775) that the Anglo-Cherokee War, along with European diseases, reduced the total Cherokee population in the Southeast to about 6,900. Sixty years earlier, the Cherokee population in north Georgia, alone, was estimated at 35,000 to 50,000.

The French and Indian War continued until 1763. The British won the conflict, causing France to lose all of its possessions south of Canada. As a result, Britain claimed all the land from the east coast of North America to the Mississippi River. But possession of these lands again would change 20 years later in the aftermath of the American Revolution.

This article by Society member Richard Cinquina was originally published in the Laurel of Northeast Georgia in April 2024.

About the Rabun County Historical Society 

The Rabun County Historical Society is dedicated to keeping alive Rabun County’s 200-year history in the Appalachian Mountains of Georgia. We collect, preserve and display important historic artifacts, photographs and records in our 2,300-square-foot museum and archives located at 81 North Church Street in downtown Clayton, Georgia. The Society is a not-for-profit organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, making membership dues and donations fully tax deductible. For more information, please contact us.